Overland Park Police Officer Freddie Castro died Tuesday after a weeks-long struggle in the hospital with COVID-19, Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez announced Tuesday evening.
Castro, 23, was first admitted to the hospital in July, according to his family and colleagues, and his condition quickly worsened. He was transferred to the ICU and was placed on a ventilator, which he stayed on for 35 days.
“He was a fighter, he fought until the very last minute,” John Fierro, Castro’s uncle and godfather, told reporters Tuesday night.
A dream to be in law enforcement
Donchez said Castro first came to the attention of Overland Park city officials at Johnson County Community College.
Castro joined the Overland Park Police Department when he was just 19 as a motor assistance officer, a civilian role. He was too young to be a police officer.
But when he turned 21, Donchez said, he immediately took the test to join the force.
“He always had a smile on his face, because he loved what he was doing. He loved being a police officer,” Donchez said Thursday. “It breaks my heart, to lose such a young man with such a bright future ahead of him.”
Fierro said it had always been Castro’s dream to be in law enforcement, recalling that he started off as a security guard at Worlds of Fun amusement park before contacting Overland Park.
“He was so impressive,” Fierro said. “He worked very hard to go through the academy. He was a very determined, focused young man who always wanted to make a difference in the world.”
On Wednesday, the Kansas City Star reported that Castro had not been vaccinated, according to police spokesperson John Lacy.
Donchez told reporters Tuesday night that “about 70%” of Overland Park police officers are vaccinated against COVID-19, a figure Lacy confirmed to the Star.
Lacy told the Shawnee Mission Post last week that the department is allowing officers to maintain privacy about their vaccination status.
Police officers and department employees can voluntarily register their vaccination status with the department.
Donchez was asked Tuesday about the risks police officers face in the ongoing pandemic.
“There are a lot of dangers in this profession, and we know that when we sign up. We always know the dangers are out there,” Donchez said.
Last week, the police department issued a directive requiring unvaccinated police employees to wear N95 masks and safety goggles when indoors, in vehicles and when working with the public.
That supplements a city policy issued Aug. 4 requiring all Overland Park city employees to wear masks indoors when they are not at their desk or office, including during in-person staff meetings, in a vehicle on city business, and at council meetings and while interacting with the public, according to a city spokesperson.
“This virus is not to be taken lightly,” Fierro said. “To see what he had to go through the last 37 days, 35 of them on a ventilator: nobody should have to go through that.”
Donchez said the department plans to honor Castro “as we would any fallen officer.”